I didn’t inherit my grandmothers’ cooking acumen. I got almond shaped eyes from one grandma and I got the other’s freckled face, but the ability to throw down in the kitchen was not allotted into my gene pool. Now, don’t get me wrong—I can fix food for my family so that they don’t starve, and my 10-minute chili is a huge hit around the dinner table--but I could certainly use some help.
It’s taken years, but I’ve figured out that what sets my grandmothers apart from myself is their unending creativity in the kitchen. They’re able to--without a plan--look in the fridge, pull out a few random things (like a pepper, some lunch meat, leftover pasta, etc.) and mold it into a five-star meal.
My father tells the story of how on one of his birthdays he wanted a chocolate cake; his mom had planned on a pound cake and didn’t have money to buy ingredients for a whole other dessert. But, to his surprise, she fashioned ingredients she did have (peanut butter and molasses?!) to make him a chocolate cake. “It was like magic,” he says. P.S. My dad is also a phenomenal cook. And my mom…and brother…and sister. Blah.
I recently shared my qualms with my grandma, telling her how I’m just not creative in the kitchen like she is (even as she approaches her 90’s!). I told her how uninspiring the kitchen has always been for me. I told her how boring it is to eat my own food. I cried her a river. Her suggestion? “Try shopping at the international food market.” I was like, “whaaaaat?!” But, when I thought about it, her solution made perfect sense.
The international grocers carry produce and ingredients that you don’t see in your mainstream store—like fruit from Thailand, pungent spices from the Ivory Coast, sauces from Italy, and oodles of noodles from Hong Kong.
As intimidating as you’d think an international grocery store would be for this non-cook raised in the American south, it was the complete opposite. Sure, I couldn’t read many of the labels. But suddenly going grocery shopping felt like a trip around the world. Minus the jet lag.